Companies committing to remote or hybrid workompanies committing to remote or hybrid work for the long term are grappling with big questions: Should they maintain permanent offices—and if so, how much space, and how should it be configured? What can they do to make sure remote employees feel included? These issues are now on the agenda for every type of company—from tech startups to businesses with decades of heritage.
Giant Eagle, a regional food, fuel, and pharmacy retailer servicing communities for nearly a century, is one business making the leap into such uncharted territory. WorkLab caught up with Arlo Sivak, Giant Eagle’s manager of modern workplace, to learn about the company, how it’s adapting to hybrid work, and the ways it’s reinventing its approach to office space.
The Origin Story: Giant Eagle traces its history to the early 20th century, when it was founded by five families. Their descendants—including CEO Laura Shapira Karet—are still involved in the business today. “We’re a traditional company in a lot of senses, but we’re never afraid to try new technology,” Sivak says. Today, robots stroll through some Giant Eagle stores taking stock of inventory, and shoppers use an app to scan groceries as they drop them in their carts, then check out seamlessly.
The Stats: The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based company has more than 470 retail locations spanning five states, with a staff of 34,000. Most are frontline team members working in stores, with the remainder consisting of employees across numerous retail support centers and corporate settings. Giant Eagle uses Microsoft Teams to keep everyone connected.
Giant Eagle has decided to allow most corporate employees to work remotely even after the pandemic eases.
The Big Question: Giant Eagle has decided to allow most corporate employees to work remotely even after the pandemic eases. New corporate employees are no longer required to relocate to the area. “The larger talent pool is one of the biggest benefits I’ve seen,” Sivak says. “We ’ve hired a lot of people who are outside of the local Pittsburgh area, which is fairly new for us.”
The Reinvention: The company rethought its approach to real estate, recently moving out of its longtime headquarters. Knowing that all-remote has its limits—especially when it comes to creative collaboration and team bonding—Giant Eagle did open smaller offices in a brand-new tech annex in Pittsburgh that employees can use as needed. The space includes “hotel desks” that people can book, as well as meeting rooms powered by Microsoft Teams.
Before, staffers gathered around a central table in closed-off meeting rooms. In the new, airier meeting spaces, employees sit at desks six feet apart to collaborate with on-site colleagues and those streaming in from their home computers. The facility also has several Microsoft Surface Hub 2S screens that can be wheeled around as digital canvases for collaborating in Microsoft Whiteboard.
The Takeaways: On video calls, sometimes “it’s hard to stay focused, especially if you’re not on camera,” Sivak says. “You’re checking emails or something.” One solution: Building polls into Teams conversations keeps people engaged and adds a sense of fun.
Big meetings have been another challenge. “Some of our leadership meetings might have 150 or more people in them, and people used to be very comfortable going into a room and watching someone give a presentation with a projector,” Sivak says. That many people on a video call? It’s less comfortable. Breakout rooms help build a sense of connection.
Lighthearted team-building activities—meal kit cook-offs via video call, for instance—let coworkers learn something together and explore different sides of one another. That’s another essential ingredient for successful hybrid experiences: ensuring that teams connect with one another authentically, even when they’re apart.